Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX software engineers hosted a ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) session via Reddit earlier this month. “We are here to answer any questions you might have about Dragon, software and working at SpaceX,” the team wrote on June 6. People had the opportunity to ask technical questions related to their spacecraft’s software and interface. Engineers answered a series of questions related to the Dragon spacecraft that deployed NASA astronauts for the first time on May 30th. A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying veteran NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on a journey to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States.
A high school student asked the engineering team: “What can I do if I want to get a software job at SpaceX sometime in the future?”
Software Engineer Jeff Dexter, who runs flight software and cyber-security at SpaceX, responded with tips on how to get a job at the company – “Get your CS [computer science] degree (or something) similar. Spend time to really make sure you know how things work - engineers who do well at SpaceX are meticulous in their understanding of how their code works, how the network works, how Linux works, how the hardware works, etc. Get real world experience building things and solving hard problems, either through hobby projects or in internships (at SpaceX!)” he wrote.
Another Reddit user asked: “Could you possibly tell us about the previous jobs/projects/skills that you have worked on that helped get you the job at SpaceX and anything you think it important to work on when landing your first job at a tech company?”
SpaceX Engineer John Dietrick, who leads the software development team that deployed astronauts to space aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft, responded: “Our team hails from all backgrounds (seriously!) but we have noticed particularly good crossover between video game development and what we do. There are a lot of similar math-heavy and performance-centric problems in the two spaces. But that's by no means a requirement – I've never professionally built games, for example.”
He also offered great advice to students who aspire to become software engineers. “For getting your first (or any) software engineering job, two big things to focus on are: (a) your algorithms and data structures, and (b) understanding how a computer works at the lowest levels. Even if you're not regularly mucking around in device drivers, the network stack, and assembly, understanding how it all fits together will enable you to pick apart any problem you come across,” Dietrick wrote via Reddit.
“Having different people with different backgrounds (education, experience, and culturally) is a big plus on the team,” SpaceX Engineer Matt Monson, who used to work on Dragon and now leads Starlink software added, “Not much of the team, for example, comes from an aerospace background. Different points of view help us see problems from different angles, and that quite often helps us see solutions we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.”
“We’re really looking for a couple things: talent (potential) and the right attitude (desire for self-improvement, serving the team over being selfish),” Monson says. “These are more important than specific experience, and we expect to be investing in people to help them grow.”
“A super hardcore work ethic, talent for building things, common sense & trustworthiness are required, the rest we can train.”
The founder and Chief Engineer at SpaceX Elon Musk shared in February what are the top requirements to work at his company – “A super hardcore work ethic, talent for building things, common sense & trustworthiness are required, the rest we can train,” he stated.
Despite SpaceX's job applications listing a college degree as a requirement, Musk said on several occasions that if an individual shows superior engineering talent and ‘exceptional ability’ a degree is not required to be hired.
“You don't need college to learn stuff ... Everything is available, basically for free. You can learn anything you want for free,” Musk said during a conference in March, “It is not a question of learning... there is a value that colleges have, which is, you are seeing whether somebody [...] can work hard at something. Including a bunch of annoying homework assignments.”
“I don’t consider going to college evidence of exceptional ability,” he said.
Last year Musk was asked if still stands 'firmly on not requiring college degrees', to which he replied "Yes."
Yes— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 22, 2019
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.